Gentle Giants at the Zoo
Immediate Release Contact: Tracy Gray
(Pittsburgh) (May 2014)—The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s two newest residents like it slow, but we are definitely in a hurry to introduce them to our visitors.
Galápagos tortoises have the greatest longevity of any vertebrate making our new 20-year-old tortoises are considered youngsters. On average, tortoises live to be approximately 100 years old with the oldest tortoise ever recorded lived to be over 170 years old. Males are larger than females, reaching five feet in length and over 500 pounds.
The shell is the largest part of the Galápagos tortoise’s body. It is made of bone and is fused with the rib cage, which provides protection for the tortoise’s internal organs. However, the shell is not solid; it is comprised of unique honeycomb-like chambers that are filled with air. The air chambers make the shell light enough that the tortoise can lift it to move.
Tortoises prefer to spend their days lying down, basking in the sun, munching on grass and leaves, and napping or wallowing in mud puddles. In the wild, tortoises eat plants, grasses, and pear cactus, which is their favorite. At the Zoo, our tortoises will dine on timothy hay and enjoy a small amount of grain and produce.
When tortoises move, it appears to be a gigantic effort. First, in order to stand up, they have to use their short, powerful front legs to push their bodies up and the back legs to thrust their bodies forward. Their feet are turned inward to maintain balance, so they move at a snail’s pace with a lumbering side-to-side walk.
When it comes to mating, heads and shoulders count. Males square off for the right to mate with a female by standing tall, facing each other with their mouths wide open, and stretching their necks as high as possible. The highest head and neck wins and the loser waddles off to find another female.
With approximately 20,000 left in the wild, Galápagos tortoises are endangered. Poaching, loss of habitat and the introduction of domestic animals to the Galápagos Islands, such as goats, pigs, and cattle, destroy tortoise nests and prey on the eggs and young. Conservation efforts are building to protect their populations.
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is open year round. For directions, hours, tickets, and group sales information, call 412-665-3640 or visit at pittsburghzoo.org . The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. For more information, visit www.aza.org